How to Get Published

Such a seductive title that, how to get published. It was the catchy headline for a conference organised by Writers & Artists in Plymouth in December 2017. Was it possible that the answer, the key, the secret to getting published was on my doorstep? Always positive, always hopeful, I paid my money and I travelled to Plymouth University.

My main purpose was to find something helpful so I can make a decision about publishing my novel. Yes that novel, the one that has been going in and out of drawers for several years, and which I am currently engaged in moving from a first draft into a much improved second draft. All that editing is very absorbing, and I have hardly looked up to consider what will happen after this stage. Should I publish or not? I found an answer – see below.

How to Get Published Conference

The day was largely a series of talking heads, people who knew about the business of getting published. We heard about editing and plotting from two novelists (Wyl Menmuir and CL Taylor). We were given guidance on openings from another prolific writer (Joanna Nadin). Two literary agents helped us think about submitting our work to an agent (Kate Johnson and Juliet Pickering). Alysoun Owen, editor of Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, provided information about the current state of publishing and real books. And the CEO of Literature Works, Helen Chaloner, brought us up to date about bookish activities in the South West.

It’s hard listening to seven different speakers, not a great model for learning. The best sessions were those which included activities, the ones in which we worked on opening sentences, writing elevator pitches, evaluating successful and unsuccessful pitches. There were plenty of helpful hints and tips and Q&A opportunities.

Some guidance was not quite so helpful. ‘Always finish everything you start,’ Wyl Menmuir quoted Neil Gaiman. People nod as if the advice is obvious, like proofreading your pitches. It seems crazy advice to me: if I followed this guidance I would still be working on all those teenage novels, formless, angsty, the tone breathless, and still trying to get them into shape. It seems to me that knowing when to leave some writing behind is a skill worth cultivating.

A conference is also about meeting other people, and it is always enjoyable to hear about their projects. Some of the elevator pitches were most impressive, and intriguing, as they should be.

Where next?

Over the years I have come to see that writers need to pay attention to guidance from the professionals to get published. It’s all about the book, we were told more than once. And we saw how despite the solitary nature of most writing, the publication of a book is about the cooperation and complementary work of many different people. The word trust, especially in relation to the agent-author relationship, was frequently emphasised.

Impostor Syndrome

Confronted by those successful writers and agents, and sitting among ambitious writers displaying loads of confidence, it’s hard not to feel that it all applies to everyone else. My work doesn’t follow the three act structure, the MC doesn’t have a clear and thwarted want. My pitch is currently rather tame. In short, impostor syndrome is alive and well even if my inner critic is uncharacteristically quiet. [IC: I don’t need to say anything – IS is doing it all for me.]

TLC have recently been circulating the following rejection letter,


Mr F. C. Meyer,
Wells Street,

Dear Sir,

No, you may not send us your verses, and we will not give you the name of another publisher. We hate no rival publisher sufficiently to ask you to inflict them on him. The specimen poem is simply awful. In fact, we have never seen worse.

Yours faithfully,


TLC is suggesting that such brutal honesty should be accompanied by helpful advice. There now exist many helpful strategies for writers to seek out, including mentoring (see TLC, W&A, Gold Dust and many more).

And if you took a sharp breath on behalf of Mr Meyer, let me remind you (and me) that it is all about the book. The best antidote to impostor syndrome is to repeat: the book is not me, the book is not me.

For my own part, it was a coffee-time conversation that led me to move my decision forward. I shall take the next steps, finish this edit and seek further professional guidance about my novel. I have nothing to lose, and lots to learn.

Go to Artists & Writers website for details of more dates for similar events, mentoring services and so on.

photo credits  Writing by Caitlinator on Visualhunt / CC BY

Pencils Photo by smoorenburg on Visual Hunt / CC BY

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Filed under Books, Learning, My novel, Writing

14 Responses to How to Get Published

  1. Barb Hafslund

    Hi everyone
    I can only say that here in Australia, I can’t even get a publisher to accept the mandatory first three chapters to read – never mind get remotely close to publishing. I have been trying for 5 years now for someone to even look at the first chapter.
    I’m guessing that the main reason is because my books are fantasy – and not whatever they want to push right now. I am told, time and time again, that there is more than a 3 year waiting list to send your first 3 chapters for evaluation.
    Strangely, I have 20 people around the world reading my books. I don’t know them personally, I have little contact apart from their feedback regarding what they have read of my books. I chanced upon a site years ago that let total strangers read a genre of their choosing.
    I have attended writing seminars, talked to many people in “the game” and all basically seem to look down their noses at my choice of genre.
    I wonder how they would treat JK Rowlings?
    I now have breast cancer ……. so I guess I will just leave my books for my son to see if he can get them published. lol

    Barb Hafslund

    • Caroline

      Hi Barb,
      well done for persisting with your books this far. So much publishing success seems to be down to a little luck and some other ingredients it is hard to find.
      I am so sorry you are ill. I hope the cancer responds to treatment and you will be back waiting for those rejections and an acceptance (it only takes one) in no time.
      Thanks for taking time to comment on the blog.

  2. “…knowing when to leave some writing behind is a skill worth cultivating.”

    Great piece – thank you & good luck with your novel!

  3. Helen Ashley

    That rejection letter reminded me of an online review of my poetry pamphlet, which began: “Trees have suffered for this”, and went on to condemn just about every poem in the pamphlet. I hadn’t personally sent it to him, so after one rather upsetting reading, I decided not to look at his website again.
    It seems to me one of the best pieces of advice to writers is to develop a thick skin to cope with the rejections, which are almost bound to come before your work finds a sympathetic publisher (i.e. one like TLC suggests, who at least follow up with a bit of encouragement), and then – joy of joys – one who actually accepts your work.
    Good luck with your novel.

    • Caroline

      Thanks Helen.
      Here’s to that thick skin. What a wally to think that the reviewer could patronise you like that. I love your poems and I’m very envious of your abilities to compose them.


  4. I so agree that deciding when not to continue with the project is a skill to cultivate. Emma Darwin has some sensible stuff about this on her blog. Good luck with the next stage, Caroline.

    • Caroline

      Hi Anne,
      Thanks for the tip about Emma Darwin’s thoughts. I like her blog. She says helpful things to writers.
      And congratulations on your second novel.

  5. Marianne Coleman

    So glad you have decided to go ahead Caroline. As you say – there is nothing to lose.

    • Caroline

      Thanks for this Marianne. You have no idea how important it is to receive helpful and positive comments. It’s a gift you have.
      Caroline x

  6. Lynda Haddock

    Good luck Caroline. I loved reading your book – so courage!
    Lynda x

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